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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Jun 22;272(1569):1279-85.

Experimental evidence rejects pairwise modelling approach to coexistence in plant communities.

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  • 1Department of Applied Landscape Ecology, UFZ Centre for Environmental Research, Permoserstrasse 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.


Competition is often invoked as the cause of plant species loss with increasing system productivity. Experimental results for multispecies assemblages are virtually absent and mathematical models are thus used to explore the relationship between competition and coexistence. Modelling approaches to coexistence and diversity in competitive communities commonly employ Lotka-Volterra-type (LV) models with additive pairwise competitive effects. Using pairwise plant competition experiments, we calibrate the LV system and use it to predict plant biomass and coexistence in six three-species and one seven-species experimental mixture. Our results show that five out of the six three-species sets and the seven-species set deviate significantly from LV model predictions. Fitting an additional non-additive competition coefficient resulted in predictions that more closely matched the experimental results, with stable coexistence suggested in all but one case. These results are discussed with particular reference to the possible underlying mechanisms of coexistence in our experimental community. Modelling the effect of competition intensity on stability indicates that if non-additive effects occur, they will be relevant over a wide range of community sizes. Our findings caution against relying on coexistence predictions based on LV models.

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